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Report: Tampa Bay is most financially distressed among major metros

Got a bad case of the fiscal blues? No surprise there.

No other major metropolitan area is as stressed out as Tampa Bay when it comes to the combined factors of a rough job market, tight credit, household budget constraints, lower net worth and, most significantly, a lousy housing market.

That's according to the quarterly Consumer Distress Index released Wednesday by the nonprofit credit counseling agency CredAbility.

Out of the top 25 metros, Tampa Bay was not only most financially distressed, but it also was the only major metro in the bottom-rung category of "Emergency Crisis." Detroit, the second-most-distressed city, just barely landed one category higher: "Distressed Unstable."

Detroit and Miami-Fort Lauderdale have been in emergency crisis mode during parts of 2011, along with Tampa Bay. But the bay area's climb out of the cellar has been the most labored.

Mark Cole, CredAbility's chief operating officer and publisher of the distressed index, said Tampa Bay's lagging recovery is across the board. But the biggest obstacles to its financial health are the ongoing housing crisis and still-high unemployment.

"Those two are really the big anchors that weigh you down compared to everybody else," Cole said. "Over a five-year period, you guys have had some really difficult times there."

Housing was the single biggest drag on performance, with mortgage delinquencies in Tampa Bay and Miami (No. 3 on the Distress Index) both running higher than any other region.

Unemployment in the region has dropped from its peak of 12.5 percent. However, add in part-time workers seeking full-time jobs and workers who have temporarily stopped a job search, and the bay area's jobless rate is relatively stagnant at 17.5 percent, Cole said.

An "emergency crisis level," Cole said, refers to a tipping point when households struggle to pay for their basic needs like food and housing. From a community standpoint, it's reflected in more homeless and more people seeking social services.

The most encouraging news for Tampa Bay is that many are doing a better job than expected in this environment at handling their household budgets and keeping credit intact, Cole said.

In a state-by-state analysis, Florida jumped more than 2 points since last quarter but continues to hold steady as the fifth most financially distressed state for consumers.

Washington, D.C., surfaced as the least-distressed metro, thanks to the cushion of relatively secure government jobs. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, Va., scored strong on both the job front (with an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in March), and its improved ability to manage credit and household budgets.

Nationally, the distress-o-meter has eased somewhat with the addition of 635,000 jobs over the quarter, fewer mortgage delinquencies and improving credit.

Still, even the best regions remain in relatively poor shape. None of the 25 metros was strong enough to rank as "good" or "stable." The best that places such as Washington, D.C., Boston and Minneapolis could muster was the "Weakening At-risk" level.

The last time ratings were in the good range was pre-recession 2006.

This is the first time that Atlanta-based CredAbility has included a metro comparison in its distress index. The credit-counseling company, which has been tracking distress levels since 1980, uses about 65 different public data points plus some internal data in creating the index.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8242.

Most financially distressed metros

1. Tampa Bay

2. Detroit

3. Miami/Fort Lauderdale

Least financially distressed metros

1. Washington, D.C.

2. Boston

3. Minneapolis

Source: CredAbility Consumer Distress Index; First Quarter 2012

Report: Tampa Bay is most financially distressed among major metros 05/16/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 7:00am]

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